The Road Review: A Challenging Moral Journey Through Brutal and Beautiful Imagery

John Hillcoat, the director of the new Cormac McCarthy adaptation “The Road,” has made a name for himself as a visual yet emotive director. His major film debut The Proposition dealt with the barren desert of the uncivilized Australian outback and gave brutality a stunning visual depiction. His new film The Road is another onslaught to any human beings senses testing the audience’s ability to endure a long journey with the two characters, a father and son wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland trying to survive. Whoever is not ready to see this bleakly realistic hypothesis of the devolution of man when all comforts of modern society are removed creating barbaric animals and an uncivilized future should be weary of this journey. This film is a tough pill to swallow but is inevitably worth it as the depth of this study on human nature and a touching father and son relationship comes to an inevitable close. Unlike most of the apocalypse films that have already debuted this year, such as the horrid 2012 or Shane Acker’s 9, come nowhere near the contemplation, reflection, and necessary questions one must approach when dealing with the known end of civilization. John Hillcoat makes a beautifully dreary project that is an accurate adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about human survival while making it expressively his own, a task that might alienate more sensitive audiences not ready to visualize the answers to the tough questions.

Modern society lives in complacency, comfortable with everything we take for granted especially easy access to food, cultural luxuries such as music, and even the occasional abuse of those non-survival goods such as soda. As The Road opens we are introduced to our protagonist an unnamed father (Viggo Mortensen) who is leading his son through an environmental post-apocalypse that was caused by unknown reasons. The reason for the destruction isn’t the most important element to the stories equation because it’s treated as a given. The film expands upon this apocalypse as a tale of clinging to moral standards in a land where there are no rules. An old man played exquisitely in a subtle and challenging performance by Robert Duvall claims, “May the creator of humanity find no humanity here.” This foreboding but accurate line is demonstrated throughout the film with horrid imagery and vague insinuation. In a land where most of the animals have died off the Man and his son find dead bugs to feed themselves as the uncivilized wasteland has turned most surviving men into cannibals, the real threat that must be avoided throughout the film.

This morally bleak tale will leave most people uncomfortable or even disgusted at the world John Hillcoat is presenting to them. But that is simply the point of the film and shows us the hope of man within a boy who will learn what is right from wrong. The father and son relationship is explored with incredible depth putting Mortensen in some extremely challenging acting scenarios such as contemplating if it would just be best to kill his son instead of falling into the hands of cannibals. The idea of carrying on values in a land where there is none is visually depicted and emotionally felt as the father repeatedly reminds his son that he won’t be around forever. Newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee does surprisingly well in the midst if Mortensen’s challenging role and brings the innocent boy a great sense of curiosity, need for human connection, and a naïve caring that is morally genuine but personally jeopardizing. It is the father who must teach the boy survival skills to the point of how to kill oneself efficiently if they come near the hands of cannibals.

The grey imagery is haunting and used quite well for this bleak film. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe makes every image memorable, emotional, or even shocking. Some films just stick with you visually and The Road will definitely follow you well after you’ve seen the film. But the visuals are just the accentuating factor to the deep and reflective tale, questioning the essence of humanity and showing the lengths people will go to in order to survive including moral choices and immoral choices. Modern society’s complacency with access to food and water also includes our comfort in human institutions such as law and government. True anarchy is barbaric and humans with no moral grounding, linked mostly to religious sentiments (showed remarkably well with the grey light through a cross entering a broken down church), will resort to their own code of ethics: kill or be killed; eat or be eaten. This isn’t an easy thing to contemplate let alone see through John Hillcoat’s brutal and truthful imagery, yet it is a strength that this film embraces and truly visualizes.

As of late there have been some successful attempts at bringing back the science-fiction genre, either with Duncan Jones’ human condition study Moon or the equally bleak procreation wasteland of Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. However, Hillcoat’s ability to make brutal imagery beautiful taps into the tough and bleakly honest story that Cormac McCarthy intended to present. This accurate adaptation is not easy to endure but one aspect that cannot be denied is that it is unforgettable. The haunting visuals and the challenging performances will make you uncomfortable for a reason and the reflection is worth having. Humanity has the ability to provide a moral framework but it also has the ability to throw it all away in order for personal survival. The film shows the animalistic cannibals as villains and the father and son as the “good guys,” a clinging to that moral framework that shows just how important it really is. Be wary of The Road and its journey but know that it’s not a hopeless one.

Grade: A-

2 Responses to “The Road Review: A Challenging Moral Journey Through Brutal and Beautiful Imagery”
  1. Juan C says:

    I think you are right in your review. This movie was unlike anything I have ever seen. This movie makes me want to buy a gun for protection. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

  2. markus says:

    there are many aspects that i dont understand.

    like, why is he going on that long trip? its dangerous everywhere. and you are definetly not good protected with a cart on a lonely road. and eveny the end shows that the road was not worth it.

    why did his wife leave? a mother would protect his child till her death… and she was far away from that.

    why would you sleep at the shore? its super windy and cold. and if you have nothing but some blankets… thats not a good choice.

    and. he has a lighter. which works for a journey that would last about a year?

    they do have a tent, and dont use it?
    if you have ever slept in the cold, then you know, to be dry is the most important thing!

    and the truck. i guess the worst gasmilage ever. but still they are using it.

    and in a wooden house with trees surrounded, the piano would be the last thing i would burn…

    the movie by it self is really not easy to forget, and good to see what a babarian scenario could look like, but there are a lot of unlogical things in it.

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